Corey Heim perfect at COTA to hold off aggressive Truck Series competitors

AUSTIN, TEXAS - MARCH 23: Corey Heim, driver of the #11 Safelite Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series XPEL 225 at Circuit of The Americas on March 23, 2024 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Corey Heim didn’t put a foot wrong at the Circuit of The Americas. He started second and led 31 laps of the 42-lap XPEL 225, including holding on for Overtime, to score a back-to-back road course win from last season.

The result certainly didn’t come out of thin air but was the result of extensive preparation from the driver and his team. TRICON Garage built a whole new road course chassis for the No. 11 despite there being just one road course on the schedule, and Heim spent many hours in the simulator to get ready.

“I just prepared so hard for this race,” Heim said. “Huge thank-you to everyone back at TRICON Garage, Toyota Racing… This Safelite Tundra TRD Pro is phenomenal. Huge thank you to Trevor Bayne for my pre-race stuff, he’s taught me so much… So much help through so many different areas of this race for me.”

It was practice motivated by some disappointment. After showing speed last year at COTA, Heim was unable to secure the win.

“I came into this race last year and just struggled, really. I think I finished sixth with a penalty, and just all over the place. To put together a solid race like this today is special and really just shows us how good our trucks are back at our shop,” he explained.”

He certainly did this time. But not only does he now have that first win locks him into the Playoffs, Heim has finished sixth or better in every race this season. Last year, he advanced through the Playoffs into the Championship 4 but had a poor finale race that ended with him penalized for wrecking competitor Carson Hocevar.

“Yeah, that just great consistency, and that was the name of the game last year to make it as far as we did. Had an unfortunate result at the end, but I think this year we can make it back and prove that we’re champions,” he explained. So super excited for the rest of the year. I feel like we’re just getting started and I feel like our best tracks are in front of us.”

AUSTIN, TEXAS – MARCH 23: Corey Heim, driver of the #11 Safelite Toyota, drives during the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series XPEL 225 at Circuit of The Americas on March 23, 2024 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Heim’s TRICON teammate Taylor Gray ended up behind him. While second is a good result for the No. 17, Gray was disappointed that he was unable to push at the end. After a late caution and Overtime, Gray banked on staying out to keep his track position, so his team warned him against pushing the truck too hard around the 3.4-mile track for the final two laps.

“It sucks, we put ourselves in good position… just couldn’t attack those last couple of laps,” he explained. “I feel like we could’ve had something for the 11, maybe given him a little harder of a race out there at the end. But congrats to those guys, they executed well all day long.”

But it was fourth-place Connor Zilisch who ultimately stole the show in Austin, though. The 17-year-old driver was making his first-ever NASCAR national series start driving the No. 7 truck for Spire Motorsports, but he’s not shy on experience. Just this year, he’s won the first two IMSA races of the season driving an LMP2 prototype, including earning the vaunted Rolex Daytona watch at the 24 hour race.

Zilisch had a wild ride on Saturday. He started on the pole after qualifying about a second quicker than the rest of the field, but then wildly overshot the first turn. That led to his tires going down a few laps later which caused damage that forced him down pit road for extended repairs that left him down a lap. He came out running the fastest laps of the field and got the free pass back to the lead lap at the Stage 1 caution.

Then, having climbed up to the battle for 15th, Zilisch was spun by Tyler Ankrum making a dive to the inside, and he fell back outside the top twenty. Just a few laps after that, Zilisch was awarded a pass-through penalty for cutting the course in the esses, the only section of the track where track limits are enforced. Despite all that, he was up to sixth by the end of Stage 2.

Zilisch successfully passed Ty Majeski for second on lap 28 of 42 after leaning on the other driver and making contact. That gave Zilisch a tire rub as he hunted down leader Corey Heim. Though the tire stopped smoking, the handling appeared to go away. Then on lap 37, Zilisch got another pass-through penalty for cutting the course.

He was ultimately saved by two restarts, one with three to go and one Overtime restart past the scheduled race distance, that enabled him to climb up to fourth, and he finished the race there after a side-by-side battle with third-place Ty Majeski.

Cup Series driver Ross Chastain rounded out the top five.

The final Overtime restart was set up by one of the most bizarre part failures imaginable. While limping his No. 04 truck back to the pits for repairs, the entire rear end housing separated from his truck. The wheels, axles, gearing and more rolled across the track while the truck slowly spun uncontrollably.

A shocked Andretti surveyed the scene shaking his head after getting out of the truck.

The incident required an extended cleanup to pick up Andretti’s truck. To help drivers conserve fuel, NASCAR threw the red flag for four and half minutes before a few more laps of caution.

The Truck Series returns at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia on Saturday, April 6th.


Owen Johnson